Strawberries on the Cheap: Things to Consider When Buying Food

by Jen Wanous

If you know me, you know that I love a good bargain!  That’s why, the other night, when I saw a guy selling strawberries off of a card table for a buck on the side of the street, I got two!  Of course, these ripe spring jewels were not of the organic variety – those cost $6 at my local food coop.  Every time we make a food purchase, we are confronted with ethical, nutritional and financial decisions.  This time, for me, the financial component took precedence, but it doesn’t always.  Below are some things that I consider when choosing food.  Next time you are at the grocery or at a makeshift fruit stand on the side of the street, you can consider these things too.

Is it local? 

Is it organic?

Does it look ripe and fresh? 


I put local at the top of my criteria because buying local supports your local farming community, reduces the carbon footprint by cutting out shipping fuel and ensures that you’ll be eating fresh, seasonal food.  Your local farmer’s market will have a great selection of food that is grown within 150 miles and Whole Foods is stepping up its game now by sourcing products locally too.

Organic means that the food has been certified to be free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, does not contain genetically modified organisms and is not subjected to irradiation.

Okay, this is quite the package to unpack, but here are some highlights:

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers keep the bugs off but poison the consumer and the environment.  The runoff from farms pollutes our waters and has health risks ranging from mild skin rashes to more significant environmentally-derived health problems like cancer and birth defects.

GMO food has been messed with on a genetic level.  We are talking DNA here.  Scientists, paid by monopoly seed producers and pesticide producers (like Monsanto) go into the DNA of a seed and change it to be resistant to chemicals or bugs, or anything.  The effects of DNA splicing in the food we ingest has unforeseen consequences.  Do you really want to eat food that has genetically modified DNA?

Irradiation is something that I had not heard about before I started culinary school.  I was amazed to discover that most of the non-organic food that we get in grocery stores has been exposed to low levels of radiation.  It is used to increase shelf life by killing bacteria, viruses and insects on food, including meat.  This process of exposing food to radiation has many drawbacks. Some of these possible issues are that it masks food that could be spoiled, it impairs flavor and, hello, we are eating food that’s been exposed to radiation.

All this being said about organic foods, we still have to consider that a healthy adult person has the immune capacity to deal with some non-organic products.  It’s not a must to buy all organic, just try to.

Here is a list of the “dirty dozen”, which are foods that you want to get organic, if possible:

1. Meat

2. Milk

3. Coffee

4. Peaches

5. Apples

6. Sweet bell peppers

7. Celery

8. Strawberries

9. Lettuce

10. Grapes

11. Potatoes

12. Tomatoes

Here is a little tip when buying produce to tell what you’re getting. 

We all see them and peel them off whenever we eat a piece of fresh fruit.  They are the stickers with numbers and they have a secret code so that you can tell what you are buying.

–  4 digit number means conventional (grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers)

–  5 digit number and starts with a 9 means organic

–  Starts with the number 8, then it’s been genetically modified

To find out more about organic food, you can check out:

Food Inc. (movie)

The Future of Food (movie)

The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein (book)

Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan (NY Times article)

Organic Food, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation, all on Wikipedia.

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